The Road to After

The Road to After
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Release Date
May 10, 2022
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This poignant debut novel in verse is a portrait of healing, as a young girl rediscovers life and the soothing power of nature after being freed from her abusive father.

For most of her life, Lacey has been a prisoner without even realizing it. Her dad rarely let her, her little sister, or her mama out of his sight. But their situation changes suddenly and dramatically the day her grandparents arrive to help them leave. It’s the beginning of a different kind of life for Lacey, and at first she has a hard time letting go of her dad’s rules. Gradually though, his hold on her lessens, and her days become filled with choices she’s never had before. Now Lacey can take pleasure in sketching the world as she sees it in her nature journal. And as she spends more time outside making things grow and creating good memories with family and friends, she feels her world opening up and blossoming into something new and exciting.

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The Aftermath of Abuse
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Lacey, her younger sister Jenna, and their mother have been allowed to leave their home only infrequently for the thirteen years of Lacey's life. There are lots of rules that have to be followed to keep their father happy, and he becomes violent and abusive when the rules are broken. When her father is gone, her mother packs up Lacey and her sister, and with the help of the police and her grandparents, the family is removed from their house. They have to leave their dog, Mac, behind. The mother presses charges, and the father is put in jail. They stay briefly with their grandparents, Mémère and Pépère, but soon move to an apartment at Caring Unlimited, a shelter for families displaced because of abuse. There are counselors for the girls, which is especially important for Jenna, who at the age of four has never spoken. There is a garden at the shelter, a library nearby, and the mother gets helps to apply for a graduate program. They are concerned about being seen out in public, and it's a new experience for Lacey to have so much freedom, and the three slowly get used to being out of their home. Eventually, they pack a donated van and move from Maine to Virginia for the summer. There is a woman to watch the girls while the mother attends classes, but Jenna screams for so long that the mother tries to take the girls to class. This isn't allowed, so Mémère comes to watch the girls. After the summer, the family returns to Maine and live in a house across the street from the grandparents. They adopt kittens, join a homeschooling co-op, and try to navigate a different life. They have to go through the legal process to make sure the father doesn't hurt them again, but slowly readjust to their new life.
Good Points

While we pick up the story as the family is being removed from their unfortunate situation, there are plenty of circumspect details about the father's abuse described as Lacey and her sister learn to deal with the world outside their home. There are a lot of good details about the legal process as well as the therapeutic one, and it's good that the grandparents and Caring Unlimited are there for support. Things are better, but it doesn't mean they are perfect; one of the kittens they adopt becomes ill and dies, but this leads to a very fortuitous trip to the animal shelter. This feels very authentic, and Lacey's somewhat confused emotions are nicely portrayed. The author says in an afterword that she had experience with domestic abuse, and she is able to use her experiences in a very effective way. There are also sketches throughout the book that she has done, and the book ends on a positive and hopeful note.

This is a novel in verse, and there seems to be an uptick in the number of readers asking for this format. Faruqi's Unsettled, Farid's Wave, and Warga's Other Words for Home follow a similar style. I can't say that I've seen many books about abusive households, or recovering from this, although this does have a similar sad feeling to Dooley's Free Verse or Ashes to Asheville.

The abuse in this book isn't quite as bad as the abuse intimated in Stronger Than You Know, and the characters are a bit younger. Hand to readers who want books that show what it's like to escape a horrible home situation, like Smy's The Hideaway or Raúf's The Star Outside My Window. This is also a good replacement for Vigilante's The Trouble with Half a Moon (2012). Ten years seems to go by in the blink of an eye when it comes to books, and I'm sure that the treatment and help that is available for people in troublesome domestic situations has changed in that time.
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